NEW Zoo to elevate visitor experience
By Lea Kopke
SUAMICO – Visitors to the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park will soon be able to see animal exhibits from a whole new perspective.
At a press conference July 22, the zoo announced plans to install a 1,700-foot-long canopy walk, where guests can walk across bridges suspended up to 22 feet in the air.
Neil Anderson, Director of the NEW Zoo, said guests will be able to look down into the African penguin, snow leopard and Japanese Macaque exhibits.
Anderson said the walk will begin at the adventure park, head along the pond, cross back and forth over the walkway from the upper parking lot, above the special event area, pass by exhibits in the international animals’ area and exit to the left of the park’s entrance.
The project will cost $460,000, with construction beginning in October.
Anderson said because the zoo doesn’t receive taxpayer dollars, the project is being funded both by the NEW Zoological Society and donations, including $50,000 from Nature’s Pathway CEO Mike Devereux.
He said after the initial canopy is built, the zoo will expand by adding chutes for the animals to walk alongside visitors as they venture the bridges.
“You’re walking along 22 feet up in the air, and next thing you know you’ve got a snow leopard that’s walking along by you,” Anderson said. “And you’re experiencing that animal – you’re understanding how that animal moves, works and the beauty of that animal, but it’s your experience.”
He said not only would visitors enjoy the experience, but it would also act as an enrichment activity for the animals, who would be allowed to walk outside of their regular cages and/or spend time watching people pass.
The zoo will install a new playground with chutes modeled after the animal’s paths, so kids can pretend as if they are monkeys or big cats exploring the trees.
“And hopefully, with (the canopy and park), maybe we can spur on the next scientist, the next conservationist steward, the next veterinarian,” Anderson said. “Those are all things that are possible when you have those connections.”
In the same area, he said there is talk of eventually installing large treehouses – potentially built by students at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College – which could be used either as a classroom or as an overnight facility.
Anderson said NWTC and the zoo have a history of partnership, including the remodeling of the snow leopard enclosure.
The canopy walk will include five 12 x 12-foot platforms with educational storyboards.
Anderson said the development of the master plan and the canopy project both focus on the concept of connecting the past with the present.
“How do we look at using this site to really make something really special? Because it’s unique, this site is unique,” he said. “But at the same time, too, keep the rich history and the feeling of this, what everybody knows, the reforestation camp.”
The platform just before the bridge to the penguin enclosure will focus on the history of the zoo and feature historical photos of the park, including one of the reforestation camp’s first superintendents, Harry Barth, planting the first of the camp’s many trees.
Gary Ehrbar, president of the NEW Zoological Society Board of Directors, said he grew up around the zoo and has seen it transform over the years.
Ehrbar said when his father, former NEW Zoo charter president Ernest Ehrbar, first arrived at the park, there were only eight or so animals.
Now, the park has 200 animals from 90 different species.
“Some of you may remember what this property looked like in 1985, it’s vastly different than the way it looks today…” Ehrbar said. “The canopy walk will educate people on the beginnings of the reforestation camp, as well as the animals we have that they’ll be walking over.”
Hank Wallace, a NEW Zoological Society board member, said he remembers how small the zoo was during his first visit.
“What we have now, is such a change,” Wallace said. “So each one of these steps, that I’ve seen, is very helpful, and with the younger population coming up, (the canopy walk) is going to be a big thing for them to do.”